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Shortlisted for the Wolfson History Prize 2018
Robert Bickers is the author of the highly-acclaimed Empire Made Me and The Scramble for China. He has written extensively on Chinese history and is a Professor of History at the University of Bristol.
On Out of China: How the Chinese Ended the Era of Western Domination:
When I began undergraduate study of Mandarin Chinese in London in 1983, it was very rare to encounter anybody there who spoke the language. When I began doctoral study in the history of Sino-British relations in 1988, I was one of only three of four people beginning projects that year on China. When I joined the University of Bristol in 1997 I was asked who I could possibly speak to, given that ‘we don’t know anything about China’.
Now I hear Mandarin on the streets every day, there are dozens of historians of China teaching in British universities, and many of my colleagues have visited or collaborated with Chinese scholars. And to my delight, Out of China is on the Wolfson prize shortlist. So things have changed. Everybody is talking about China.
But its rocky history and the role in that of foreign powers, as enemies or friends, remains poorly understood. That’s dangerous, for this history really matters. With this book I show how China’s bullish nationalist confidence is shaped by narratives of its historic weakness, but I also questioned that story, and showed it for the partial and distorting truth that it is. Out of China showcases as well other Chinese experiences of the twentieth century, other roads once taken, many now blocked.
Shortlisted for the Wolfson History Prize 2018 | April 2018 Book of the Month At once astonishingly detailed and succinctly incisive, this remarkably readable work lays bare the fascinating story of how China came to be the powerful country it presently is. “Nationalism matters in China, and what matters in China matters to us all,” and, the author argues, China’s “new nationalism” and present-day power can be traced back to the early twentieth century, and (perhaps surprisingly) to past weaknesses - to periods of invasion and partial subjugation when , for example, parts of major cities were governed by Britons, Japanese, Germans and Russians. With a keen and engaging interweaving of cultural history, the author explores the formation, development and trajectory of outside powers within China from the post-WWI era. Naturally, high-level politics is explored with scholarly sharpness, but this places people at its heart, relating lived experiences alongside policy shifts and grapples. Truly this is narrative history at its understand-the-past-to-understand-the-present best. ~ Joanne Owen